13 May 2019

Asia Bibi's escape to Canada shines light on Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws

Asia Bibi held the unfortunate distinction of being the first Pakistani woman sentenced to death for insulting Islam under that country's blasphemy laws.

She spent eight years on death row before her conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in October 2018.

Last week, as Bibi began to settle into her new life in Canada, after arriving on Wednesday, her lawyer turned his focus to his next court battle against Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

Speaking from his home in Lahore, Pakistan, Saiful Malook said he knows that even acting as a lawyer for someone accused of blasphemy in Pakistan could be a death sentence for himself.

"When you start this type of case, you better start developing a close relationship to God because you can go to God at any given moment with 100 to 50 bullets," he said.

Malook's new case involves a dispute over a text message a man received that allegedly insulted the Prophet Muhammad.

Like Bibi, Malook's new client, Shagufta Kausar, is Christian. The text allegedly came from a SIM card issued to Kausar. Despite the fact that she doesn't read or write, Kausar and her husband were sentenced to death for the message in 2014. [CBC/Radio-Canada] Read more

12 May 2019

Germany mulls 'mosque tax' to cut out foreign funding

Support is growing in Germany for a "mosque tax" to make Islamic institutions less dependent on potentially anti-democratic or "radical" foreign funding sources, a media report said on Sunday.

The federal government sees it as "a possible path", according to an answer to a parliamentary query, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper reported.

Several of Germany's 16 states had also signalled support in principle for the idea which would mirror Germany's voluntary Christian "church tax", the newspaper said.

Concern has grown in Germany about the influence of foreign funding sources on mosques for the country's estimated five million Muslims, who hail mostly from Turkey and Arab countries.

Some 900 mosques in Germany are run by the Turkish-Islamic Union of the Institute for Religion (Ditib), under the authority of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.

Its imams are paid by the Turkish state, and the group has come under scrutiny with some of its members suspected of spying on Turkish dissidents living in Germany. [The Local] Read more

‘An enemy plot’: Iran launches crackdown after videos emerge of schoolgirls dancing

Iranian authorities have launched an investigation into “disturbing” social media videos of schoolgirls dancing to a pop song.

Education minister Mohammad Bathaei said a team of specialists had been appointed to trace the source of the videos, featuring the music of US-Iranian rapper Sasy.

“The enemy is trying different ways to create anxiety among the people including by spreading these disturbing videos,” he said.

“I’m certain there’s some kind of political plot behind the publication of these devious clips in schools.”

The videos show groups of children – and even some teachers – taking part in an online dance challenge to the song “Gentleman”, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran.

Several clips of dancing children were also posted by the singer on his own Instagram page in defiance of the criticism from hardline conservatives in parliament. [The Independent] Read more

Germany debates 'mosque tax' to replace foreign funding

Support is growing in Germany for a "mosque tax" to make Islamic institutions less dependent on potentially anti-democratic or "radical" foreign funding sources, a media report said Sunday.

The federal government sees it as "a possible path", according to an answer to a parliamentary query, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper reported.

Several of Germany's 16 states had also signalled support in principle for the idea which would mirror Germany's voluntary Christian "church tax", the rnewspaper said.

Concern has grown in Germany about the influence of foreign funding sources on mosques for the country's estimated five million Muslims, who hail mostly from Turkey and Arab countries.

Some 900 mosques in Germany are run by the Turkish-Islamic Union of the Institute for Religion (Ditib), under the authority of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.

Its imams are paid by the Turkish state, and the group has come under scrutiny with some of its members suspected of spying on Turkish dissidents living in Germany. [AFP] Read more

11 May 2019

Men ordered not to look at women during Ramadan in Iran as hardliners tighten control amid nuclear deal row

Men in Iran have been ordered not to look at women during Ramadan as part of a round of draconian restrictions imposed by the increasingly isolated regime.

In a sign of frustration with growing civil discontent and economic pain caused by US sanctions, hardliners in Iran's government are forcing through unusually strict social diktats to bring people into line.

The country's judiciary has announced that those eating in public during the fasting period are also in breach of laws and will be prosecuted.

“My personal advice to women is to respect the hijab even more than before and gentlemen must avoid looking directly at female passersby," Gholam- Hossein Esmaili, a judiciary spokesperson said.

"Anyone ignoring these instructions during the Ramadan will be committing an offence and should expect some punishment from the law enforcement units." [The Telegraph] Read more

10 May 2019

Brunei LGBT community living in fear despite sultan's death penalty reprieve

When the Sultan of Brunei last week announced a moratorium on the much-condemned death penalty for gay sex, some hailed the move as a major advance. But inside the tiny South-East Asian nation, members of the LGBT community says there is little reason to celebrate - and much still to fear.

In an interview with the Telegraph, one gay man, who asked to be identified only as 'M', warned that the apparent turnaround would only be temporary. The moratorium declared following an international backlash was "for appearances only," he said, a "performative" reprieve adopted in part due to Ramadan.

Once the religious season was over, M said, he expected the death penalty would be reinstated. And even if it was not, he said, "it's a living hell here either way."

The sultan drew global condemnation over the Shariah penal code, which mandates punishments including death by stoning for sex outside marriage and anal sex; amputation of limbs for theft; and 40 lashes for lesbian sex. After protests led by celebrities such as George Clooney and Elton John and calls to boycott his luxury hotels, the authoritarian leader said a moratorium on the death penalty observed by Brunei for two decades would also be applied to the new laws. [The Telegraph] Read more

Second Christian woman and her disabled husband fighting death row conviction for committing 'blasphemy' in Pakistan

Christian woman Asia Bibi may have finally safely exited Pakistan after years on death row after being falsely held on blasphemy charges, but the fight for justice is far from over.

Bibi’s very prison cell is now home to another impoverished Christian woman, and the same Lahore-based attorney, Saif-ul Malook, is representing both the woman and her Christian husband. The pair have been sentenced to death under a questionable conviction of insulting Islam.

“They did not get a fair trial,” Malook told Fox News. “They are innocent.”

Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kauser – who are still waiting for their appeal to be heard by the Lahore High Court (LHC) – were tried and put on death row in April 2014. Shagufta is the second woman after Bibi to be ordered capital punishment.

The couple, believed to be in their late 30’s, hail from the city of Gojra in the Punjab province in Pakistan’s east, and were living with their four young children in a church compound. Shagufta was tasked with making ends meet, working as a cleaner and servant at the church school. Her husband is paralyzed from the waist down, having fractured his spine in a 2004 accident. [FOX News] Read more

Belgian Islamist politician gets suspended jail term and fine for gender discrimination

The co-founder of Belgium's Islam Party has been given a suspended six-month jail term for gender discrimination.

Redouane Ahrouch appeared on Belgian television channel RTL-TVI for a political debate but allegedly refused to make eye contact with journalist Emmanuelle Praet. Ahrouch also reportedly refused to shake hands with Praet because she was a woman and would not let a female make-up artist prepare him before the show.

Praet filed a criminal complaint against him. A Brussels court ruled his behaviour constituted gender discrimination and ordered him to pay €5,000 in compensation to the TV journalist. He was also given a six-month suspended jail term.

Ahrouch, 49, told Euronews the case had turned his life into a nightmare.

“They took my job, I was a bus driver for 25 years," he said. "They took my political life. It's a conspiracy against me. They are doing everything to ensure I don't get into politics again. They said I don't follow 'Belgian democratic values'. I couldn't find any lawyer who wanted to defend me at the tribunal. Even my family lawyer left me alone. [euronews] Read more

Scottish Labour in new racism row as Facebook account blames Islam for terror attacks

Scottish Labour was last night embroiled in a fresh racism scandal after a Facebook account linked to the party suggested “there is no such thing as Islamophobia”.

The Argyll and Bute Labour account also claimed Islam is “responsible for more terror attacks than any other” and treats women as “second class citizens”.

The hateful post came just days after a high-profile Muslim MSP questioned his party’s commitment to tackling prejudice.

Former deputy leader Anas Sarwar hit out after a Labour councillor was cleared of making racist comments towards him after a 15-month investigation.

The racist message was posted on Tuesday afternoon, alongside the question: “Any disagreement with this meme?” [Daily Record] Read more

09 May 2019

Muslim Protesters In Indonesia Threaten Jihad If Plan To Construct Hindu Temple Is Not Scrapped

Protesters in the small village of Sukahurip falling under Indonesia’s Sukatani district have threatened Jihad unless the planned construction of a Hindu village is stopped, Jakarta Post has reported.

The village which falls under Bekasi regency, West Java shows protesters holding green flags and banners which read, “Be careful! If you insist on building the temple, we are ready to carry out jihad as you are the one who started this”.

This protest was also confirmed by Bekasi Police chief Candra Sukma Kumara who blamed individuals from outside the village for the same.

He said that the plan to construct the Hindu temple was going on smoothly since 2017 without any backlash and it is only recently that such protests have begun.

At present, around 6,000 to 7,000 Hindus who live in the area have to travel quite a distance to Pura Agung Tirta Bhuana in neighboring Bekasi municipality. Thus the Hindu community decided to constitute a committee to full all the requirements to build the temple. [Swarajya] Read more

Pakistan: where the daily slaughter of women barely makes the news

You can find the news about Pakistan’s war on women buried deep inside the metro pages of Urdu newspapers. I stumbled upon it a few years ago. I noticed that I could pick up my newspaper and almost every day find news about a murdered woman.

I thought maybe it’s a coincidence, maybe Karachi is a huge city, these things happen. But it went on and on. It became so routine that I could pick up the paper, open the exact same pages, just like you can bet that you’ll find a crossword or letters to the editor, and it was always there.

.... There are many ways a woman can bring shame to the family. In past years, they have been killed for singing at a wedding, texting a boy, refusing to marry someone and sometimes for taking a selfie.

Pakistan torn as women’s day march sparks wave of ‘masculine anxiety’

Given these dreadful numbers and Pakistan’s rating as the sixth most unsafe country for women in the world, you would think there would be an urgent debate on the issue. You would expect parliamentary committees, thinktanks trying to figure out why are we killing so many women. But sadly, it’s not on the national agenda. [Guardian Cif] Read more

08 May 2019

Asia Bibi: Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy is now in Canada

A Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy after spending eight years on death row in Pakistan has landed in Canada to be reunited with her daughters, her lawyer has said.

Saiful Malook told Sky News on then phone that Ms Bibi arrived in Ottawa yesterday.

She was convicted of blasphemy in 2009 after a quarrel with a fellow farm worker.

The mother-of-five spent eight years on death row until the Supreme Court overturned her conviction in October.

She has since been in protective custody. [Sky News] Read more

07 May 2019

Iran summons Christians to explain why they converted from Islam

Iran's intelligence minister, Mahmoud Mahmoud Alavi, openly expressed concern last weekend about the spread of Christianity in the Islamic republic and said that some converts to Christianity were "summoned" to explain why they have converted.

The 65-year-old Alavi gave a speech before Shia clerics on Saturday, the day before the beginning of Ramadan.

According to the International Shia News Association, Alavi blamed "evangelical propaganda" for the increase in Iranian Muslims converting to Christianity in certain areas of the country.

Despite Christianity being criminalized in a country where the government is entangled with hardline Islam, the nation is experiencing one of the fastest evolving underground church movements in the world.

According to Radio Farda, Alavi told the clerics that the Intelligence Ministry and Qom Seminary, the country's largest Islamic seminary, have dispatched individuals and institutions that are active in "countering the advocates of Christianity" to areas where Muslims are being converted. [Christian Today] Read more

06 May 2019

We must have the right to blaspheme against Islam

Thou shalt not insult Islam. Bizarrely, terrifyingly, this has become the creed of 21st-century Britain. Consider the Saatchi Gallery’s decision to cover up two paintings after Muslim visitors complained they were offensive.

In a blow to the ideal of artistic freedom, the supposedly edgy gallery in west London draped grey sheets over two new paintings that infuse verses from the shahada, one of the five pillars of Islam, with images of naked women and the US flag. The Saatchi is behaving like Saudi Arabia, hiding from public view artworks that blaspheme against Islam. Perhaps the artist responsible will now get 50 lashes for effrontery to the religion of peace.

The works are by the pseudonymous artist SKU. The aim of the paintings was to explore how individuals become subjected to ‘wider cultural, economic, moral and political forces’. But visitors were denied the ability to judge how successfully the paintings did this because they were covered up by Islam-respecting modesty sheets in response to complaints that they were ‘blasphemous’.

.... This is really worrying stuff. It is bad for artistic freedom, bad for public discussion, and bad for freedom of thought. The right to blaspheme is a hard-won liberty. We should have the freedom to mock all gods, prophets, beliefs and ideas. [spiked] Read more

Brunei says it won't enforce death penalty for gay sex

Brunei has backtracked on enforcing laws introduced last month that would have made sex between men and adultery punishable by stoning to death.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah on Sunday extended a moratorium on the death penalty to cover the new legislation.

The rethink follows global outcry over the laws, including boycotts and celebrity protests.

While still on the statute books for some crimes, no executions have been carried out in Brunei since 1957.

Last month Brunei rolled out a strict new interpretation of Islamic laws, or Sharia.

In a speech, the sultan said he was aware there had been "many questions and misperceptions" regarding the implementation of the legislation, called Syariah Penal Code Order (SPCO). [BBC] Read more

Muslim Women Are Abandoning Surgery Career Dreams Over Fears Of Breaking NHS Dress Code

Some Muslim women claim they are being denied the chance of pursuing their dream of a career in surgery as they are torn between their religious beliefs and NHS dress code policies.

A study looking at the experiences of Muslim women with NHS policies such as ‘Bare Below the Elbows’ and those concerning head coverings in surgical theatres suggests some are experiencing bullying and harassment as a result of their religious observance.

Some women have even revealed they have abandoned their dream of working in surgery or a hospital setting as a result of a lack of clarity and feeling uncomfortable by NHS dress codes.

The research carried out by the British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA) and The Bridge Institute, an organisation which aims to build inclusive societies, questioned Muslim women from around the UK working in healthcare and discovered barriers when it came to dress. It was co-authored by a microbiologist and expert in infection care. [The Huffington Post UK] Read more

05 May 2019

Muslim American Society investigating ‘oversight’ following controversial video at Philly Islamic center; event organizer ‘dismissed’

A national Muslim group says it will conduct an investigation into an event at a Philadelphia Islamic center last month during which a group of youngsters sang songs it said were not “properly vetted,” calling that “an unintended mistake and an oversight.”

Youngsters at the Muslim American Society Islamic Center in North Philadelphia are shown in video footage speaking in Arabic during a celebration of “Ummah Day,” said the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a Middle East monitoring organization. One girl says "we will chop off their heads” to “liberate the sorrowful and exalted Al-Aqsa Mosque” in Jerusalem, according to the MEMRI. [Philly.com] Read more

Acclaimed novel, branded ‘Islamophobic’ and ‘racist’, is withdrawn

.... Today, in his daytime slot on London’s LBC radio, Nawaz, a staunch opponent of censorship, expressed his outrage that the book, a parody, had been pulled by its independent publisher, Dzanc Books after “Twitteridiots” castigated the publication’s “Islamophobia” and “racism”.

When the book was published last month, Stephen King said it was “scarier” than anything he ever wrote, but also that:

An irrepressible sense of humor runs through it … it’s stuff like the cross-dressing pilot (my favorite character) and any number of deliciously absurd situations (the pink jets). It’s the inevitable result of an eye that sees the funny side, even in horror. So few writers have that. This novel will cause talk and controversy. Most of all, it will be read. [The Freethinker] Read more

Swedish Muslims Look to Foreign Funding to Build Mega Mosque

The Muslim community in the Swedish municipality of Växjö has increased so dramatically, according to local leaders, that they are now planning to build a giant mosque to hold at least 1,000 people, possibly with the help of foreign backers in the Middle East.

Local imam Ismail Abuhelal said that the current mosque, the Växjö Muslim Foundation which was founded around 15 years ago, is simply not big enough to house the growing number of worshippers in the area, Lokaltidningen reports.

“When we celebrate that Ramadan is over and in connection with the trip to Mecca there can be up to 2,000 people who come to the mosque, then we have had to use the old Folkets park or be outdoors,” Abuhelal said.

The imam added that the new mosque would be a mix of traditional and modern architecture and would feature a prominent minaret, as well.

Last year the Muslim community was able to get permission from local authorities to broadcast the call to prayer publicly, despite opposition from the populist Sweden Democrats who voiced their concerns saying, “Prayer announcements in public places and in foreign languages are not part of Swedish society.” [Breitbart London] Read more

Secret Government report warns over 48 British Islamic schools are teaching intolerance and misogyny to future imams

Young imams are being trained in a network of Islamic schools across the UK that have been accused of promoting intolerance and misogyny, a secret Government report has warned.

The report claims preachers emerging from some of the dozens of Darul Uloom madrasas scattered across Britain have views as extreme as those held by radical clerics who move to the UK from Islamic countries – and may spread them to worshippers.

The Mail on Sunday has identified 48 Darul Ulooms – which can be translated as House of Knowledge – that follow a strict syllabus called Dars-E-Nizami.

It espouses the literal following of the Koran and is used by the hardline Islamic movement Deobandism, whose training schools produced the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

At least four Darul Ulooms have previously been criticised by the education regulator Ofsted. Inspectors found students being taught that music and dancing comes from the devil and that women do not have the right to refuse sex to their husbands.

Last night, a source familiar with the report said: ‘UK-based training provided by Darul Ulooms results in the development of extremist views because the institutions are highly conservative and often fail to address the challenge facing Muslims in modern Britain. It means imams trained in Britain will be no better equipped than foreign-born imams in providing satisfactory support to British Muslims.’

Haras Rafiq, an anti-extremism expert at the Quilliam think tank, said: ‘British-trained imams are not any better than the ones trained in the Indian subcontinent because both are taught the same Dars-E-Nizami syllabus. The Darul Ulooms have a problem with extremism.’ [Daily Mail] Read more

Iran's 'Terror Factory' Targeting Christians

"In Iran, any practice that contradicts Islam is regarded as a national security threat, punished severely by the court system." — International Christian Concern, 2019.

"Revolutionary courts were created to guard against all threats to Islam. These courts have evolved into a well-oiled machine of oppres­sion that operates with impunity under state protection. The courts are closely intertwined with the Intelligence Ministry. Judges have at their disposal Revolutionary Guards (secret police) and a network of prisons used to torture and interrogate Christians." — International Christian Concern.

"If you recant and repent, you'll go to jail. And if you don't, you'll be killed." — Dr. Mike Ansari from Heart4Iran, an Iranian Christian minister, reported by International Christian Concern.

"Christians may be looking at large fines, detention, lengthy prison sentences, or even execution under Islamic Sharia law. The sentences of Christian converts are left up to the interpretation of the judge and may be founded on anything -- the judge's mood that day, what he had for breakfast, his interpretation of Sharia law, or his level of hatred toward Christianity." — International Christian Concern. [Gatestone Institute] Read more

This is Saudi reform: women tortured in jail

Lina Alhathloul was at home in Brussels a year ago when she heard that her sister, Loujain, had been arrested by the Saudi government. It was only a few weeks before the ban on women being allowed to drive was due to be lifted and the eyes of the world were on the changes taking place in Saudi Arabia.

Loujain, 29, raised in wealthy circles in France and Saudi, was also a well-known women’s rights activist.

Her family thought she would be released after the driving ban was lifted and did not think the Saudi authorities, with their strict conservative views, would hurt a female prisoner.

They were wrong. Months later Loujain told her parents that she had been held in solitary confinement, beaten, taunted and sexually abused by captors including an aide to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS). [The Times (£)] Read more

Saatchi Gallery covers up SKU artworks after complaints by Muslims

A top art gallery was forced to cover two paintings last week after complaints from Muslims that they were “blasphemous”. One expert described them as “The Satanic Verses all over again”.

Exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery by an artist known as SKU, the works overlaid Arabic script on nude images, and were meant to represent the conflict between America and Islamic extremists.

However, the inclusion of the Islamic declaration of faith, known as the shahada, in the painting prompted complaints from Muslim visitors, who asked for them to be removed from the west London gallery’s exhibition, Rainbow Scenes, which finished on Friday.

Usama Hasan, head of Islamic studies at the think tank Quilliam, said the paintings were not only offensive but blasphemous and sacrilegious. “They are really dangerous,” he said. “It’s The Satanic Verses all over again.” [The Times (£)] Read more

04 May 2019

Stoke-on-Trent charity 'encouraged support for IS'

A charity that ran a mosque was used to encourage support for the Islamic State, an investigation has found.

The Charity Commission launched an investigation into Fazal Ellahi Charitable Trust in Stoke-on-Trent after imam Kamran Hussain was jailed in 2017 for supporting IS and encouraging terrorism.

It said a failure by trustees to manage resources properly led to its use for "terrorist purposes".

The charity has now been dissolved.

The commission said in 2009, the charity had been removed from the register because the commission believed it no longer existed.

But despite the removal, the charity continued to operate, it said.

The probe, launched in April last year, saw checks carried out, including an unannounced visit to the charity's premises and analysis of its bank statements.

The commission also received documents which had been seized by police at the premises.

Investigators found "serious mismanagement and misconduct" by trustees at the charity, and said they failed to maintain and preserve records relating to the charity's income and expenditure. [BBC] Read more

03 May 2019

Birmingham-based President of UK's Pakistani Youth Council once said he would 'salute' Hitler

THE Birmingham-based president of the British Pakistani Youth Council once said he would ‘salute’ Adolf Hitler if he killed more Jews than Muslims.

Kamran Ishtiaq, 37, famously hosted David Cameron when the then Tory leader wanted to ‘experience life outside of Westminster’.

On his LinkedIn profile he says he is President of the Council, which was set up to “focus on issues affecting our lives as British young people”. He adds that he has worked for the body from January 2009 to the present.

But a Facebook post from 2014, and the comments he made at the time, show he said of the Nazi dictator: “I would salute him still if he killed 90 Muslims and 92 Jews.”

When quizzed by BirminghamLive this week, he said: “If it’s on my Facebook, I said it.”

After a picture of Hitler appeared on his Facebook page, he was admonished by another poster who pointed out that the Nazi leader was a racist.

Mr Ishtiaq had replied: “I know that and to be honest he would have killed Muslims too if he got a chance.

“But you know what, I would salute him still if he killed 90 Muslims and 92 Jews.” [Birmingham Mail] Read more